Lockheed Martin officially presented the first F-35A fighters to Turkey in a 21 June rollout ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas.
Turkey is not expected to receive the stealth fighter into its own airspace until 2020, though the country’s pilots will begin training on the new aircraft at Luke AFB, Arizona at the end of the month. Turkish aircraft maintainers have already begun their training at Eglin AFB, Florida.
The formal roll-out ceremony for the Turkish F-35 comes just days after the US Senate and members of the House of Representatives moved to block the delivery of the aircraft to Turkey.
The US Senate passed the 2019 National Defense Authorisation Act on 18 June with a clause that would stop the delivery of the F-35 to Turkey.
Passage of the authorisation bill came three days after a bi-partisan group of US representatives wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, asking him to block the F-35 deliveries.
Lawmakers, as well as State Department officials, have complained about what they say is Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s disregard for the rule of law, diminishment of individual freedoms, consolidation of power and strategic military decisions out of line with US interests.
Especially problematic for US officials and lawmakers is Turkey’s agreement with Russia to buy the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf system, one of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems on the export market, which is advertised by Rosoboronexport with an "anti-stealth range" up to 81nm (150km).
Serdar Demirel, Turkish deputy undersecretary of defence industries giving a speech
Nonetheless, there was no explicit mention of the deepening dispute between Turkey and the US at the rollout ceremony. Both sides went to lengths to emphasize common interests, including Turkey’s geopolitical importance as a member of NATO and the 10 different Turkish companies that make parts for the F-35. Turkey plans to buy 100 F-35As.
“There is a part, which is produced by the Turkish industry, on every F-35 flying now,” said Serdar Demirel, Turkish deputy undersecretary of defence industries, in a speech during the ceremony. “So we are very proud that we are the partner of this program and we own this weapon system.”
He went on to conclude his speech by saying that he was pleased that a thunderstorm that hit the Fort Worth, Texas area the night before had passed in time for the F-35 delivery ceremony.
“Today, it is shining bright outside,” said Demirel. “So I am hoping that this is a sign that the sun will shine on in the defence-national cooperation between Turkey and the United States and all other nations.”